“If you want to get feedback and career support from older generations, then you have to be the best worker you can be first.”
They may be numerous, but they’re not your boss — yet.
Millennials are now the largest generation in the US workforce. In another decade, they will comprise 75% of the world’s workers. But this generation, also known as Gen Y and born between 1982 and 1992 (give or take a few years, depending on the country), is not yet in charge. For years to come, many will have bosses from an earlier generation, who still remember telephones with cords, the Rolodex and handwritten thank you notes.
Impressing those older bosses and learning from their feedback and guidance is crucial. Here’s what five workplace gurus suggest millennials can do to bridge the intergenerational divide.
Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com
Give it your all. “If you want to get feedback and career support from older generations, then you have to be the best worker you can be first,” said New York-based Schawbel, in an email. “Hit every deadline, make your manager look good and do the work that your colleagues don't want to do. Your manager will take notice and want to invest more time in helping you achieve your own career goals.”
Share your strengths and be open to learning from others. “A great way to connect with older colleagues is to establish mentoring relationships where you can help older generations with understanding the latest technology trends and tools, and they can help you with office protocol and executive networking,” Schawbel said.
Katherine LaVelle, managing director for talent and organisation with Accenture Strategy
Show your true stripes. Younger employees often have a reputation for job hopping, according to LaVelle, but nearly three-quarters of 2015 graduates plan to stay with their first employer for three years or more, according to the Accenture Strategy 2015 US College Graduate Employment Survey, which polled 2000 recent and soon-to-be graduates.
Play the long game, she advised in an email. “Discuss your long-term goals with your employer and ask about advancement options within the organisation. Tell your employer that you’re willing to invest in them and hope that they will do the same with you.”
Also look for ways to invest in yourself. Many larger employers offer learning and development opportunities, ranging from formal mentorship programs and classroom-based training to more casual job shadowing and online resources. “Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can,” said LaVelle, who lives in Washington, DC. “You’ll demonstrate to your manager that you’re eager to build the skills that will help the organisation and you’ll make yourself more marketable for the future, too.”
Like so many of your counterparts, you want to do interesting and useful work. So let yourself be heard. “If you feel you’re capable of contributing more, have a respectful and constructive conversation with your manager about the work you aspire to do and how to build the skills you need to get there,” said LaVelle.
Tim Elmore, founder and president of Growing Leaders
Milk or sugar? Try asking your supervisor out to coffee or lunch, suggested Elmore, who remembers doing this when he was in his 20s. “We met and discussed items. I listened and affirmed all I could and often would ask permission to share an added idea to his current one,” he said in an email. “Over time, I earned my right to make suggestions, because I had demonstrated that I was a ‘team player’ and fully loyal to the mission and to [his] leadership.”
At some point early in your career, you will probably find yourself receiving instruction that feels antiquated or mediocre. Don’t protest. “Instead of creating a negative [or] complaining atmosphere, just start a motivation file,” said Elmore from his offices in Atlanta. It can be digital or hard copy. “Instead of griping, you can begin to jot down ideas, starting with: If I were in charge, I would… This allows you to continue being creative by simply jotting down your ideas, but still stay collaborative with your current supervisor who may be old school and not so creative.”
Take a page from former chief executive officer of General Electric, Jack Welch, and ask to launch a “reverse mentoring” relationship: an older manager sharing the ways of the company while the young team member discusses his or her knowledge of social media or new technologies. “Today, a 22-year-old might share about how to use Snapchat or Instagram for marketing purposes, while the seasoned veteran may share about office politics,” said Elmore. “The value goes both ways.”
Jayne Mattson, senior vice president at Keystone Associates
To each his (or her) own. You’ll do your best work if you know what management style you respond to best, according to Mattson. Develop a relationship with your boss to help that process along. “Become interested in what your boss is doing professionally,” she said in an email. “Try to match your work and personal style with [his or her] style.” Offer to help. In other words, ask if you can take on more responsibility, or, if you know your boss is working on a project, offer to take something off his or her plate or to create a spreadsheet of projects with timelines and milestones.
Above all, do your job well, said Mattson, who is based in Boston. “The better you are at your job, the more likely your boss will give you more responsibility, become your advocate for better assignments and [will be] less likely to micromanage you.”
Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking Inc and author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss
Unique style. “Your various bosses come to work with different backgrounds, personalities, styles, ways of communicating, work habits, motivations, levels of ability and skill and accomplishment,” said Tulgan in an email. Some are more engaged than others. “One boss wants to spell out every detail for you, while another boss expects you to figure out everything on your own,” he said. To create the best working relationship with each one, customise your approach for each of them accordingly. The best way to learn what works and doesn’t is through one-on-one management conversations. “As you meet individually with each boss, the differences between them will jump right at you,” said Tulgan from his offices in Connecticut. “Over time, you’ll be able to tune in to that boss and adjust your approach as needed.”
Career Coach is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the career turning points and questions many professionals face. We welcome questions from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.